Best Overnight Trains – Deutsche Bahn or Amtrak?

My overnight ride on Amtrak’s Silver Star from New York to here in Jacksonville was interesting because it came just a few days after an overnight ride on one of Germany’s City Night Line train from Copenhagen to Cologne. In that comparison, Amtrak wins hands down.

 In terms of the sleeping car facilities, I guess the German train gets the nod, but by a very narrow margin. The en suite bathroom/shower facilities were well designed and easy to use, especially when compared to the contortions necessary to perform basic bodily functions using the little potty in an Amtrak Viewliner roomette. But the lighting was poor, the decor was drab and it was just not an attractive accommodation. Amtrak roomettes (photo above) and bedrooms are, by contrast, well-designed and the predominant color is an attractive blue.

The German car attendant was efficient — of course! — and did a good job informing several of us about changes in our connecting trains. But his orientation of the buttons and knobs and switches in my compartment was cursory at best, he did not offer to help with luggage, and never cracked a smile. By contrast, Antoinette, my car attendant on the Silver Star, made all the right moves and always with a cheerful smile.

How was your meal in the diner? Shall I make up the berth now? You get good night’s sleep and don’t worry: I’ll be sure you’re up an hour before we get to Jacksonville. Would you like a couple of extra pillows? I’ll be in Number 12 if you need anything during the night. 

The City Night Line train departed Copenhagen at 6:46 in the evening, but there was no dining car and no meal service of any kind that evening. I knew that and had something to eat at a restaurant in the Copenhagen station, but several passengers in my car didn’t … and went to bed hungry. The breakfast that came in a box the next morning was the same bare minimum I was given on an earlier overnight ride on another City Night Line train and which I described in an earlier post. It was, in a word (well, OK … two words), minimal and disappointing.

Dinner on the Silver Star was, I’m delighted to report, a rollicking event. My table mates turned out to be a single girl from Detroit, a lady in her 60s retired from a marketing firm in Chicago who spiced up her conversation with salty language, and a young man traveling to meet his girlfriend in Orlando. The food was pronounced excellent by everyone at the table, the conversation was animated, interesting and often hilarious. It was, in other words, a pretty typical meal in an Amtrak dining car … and one of the main reasons why I enjoy train travel so much.

So, for efficient rail travel, transporting people on modern trains that run frequently to a great many destinations, the Europeans have got us beat hands down. But for long-distance  overnight rail travel, in my book Amtrak gets he nod … and by a good margin, too.